Knight Commission Urges NCAA Tournament Money for Students

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has operated as an indicator of reform in college athletics, frequently forecasting National Collegiate Athletic Association policy change. On Tuesday, May 10, 2016, the commission recommended that NCAA leadership pursue oversight, legal, and financial reforms. Among the reform recommendations, the Commission urged the NCAA to reconsider current guidelines for the use of NCAA March Madness tournament revenues distributed to institutions.

Under the current distribution scheme, just 25 percent, or $120 million, of NCAA revenues received by institutions are restricted for athletes, supporting academic opportunities and other benefits. The remaining revenues are unrestricted, often directed to coaching salaries. The Commission recommendation seeks to reconfigure the distribution, restricting 100 percent of the revenues to be used for student-athlete initiatives, reserving approximately $500 million. In addition, the Commission affirmed its support for altering the incentives of the revenue distribution plan to provide better support for athletes, including the reward of academic outcomes.

College athletics’ revenues have continued to rise, as illustrated in the recent NCAA March Madness tournament broadcasting contract extension with CBS and Turner Broadcasting. Despite the rise in NCAA profits, revenue distribution polices have remained essentially unchanged for 25 years. Knight Commission Chair William E. “Brit” Kirwan said:

“We applaud the NCAA for considering changes that, for the first time, would allocate some NCAA revenues to institutions based on the academic outcomes of college athletes. But the Commission also believes there is a real opportunity now to make more sweeping changes. We recommend that the use of all funds institutions receive from the NCAA be restricted to support athletes’ education and to provide them with appropriate health and safety benefits and protections.”

The Commission’s support of rewards based on academic outcomes is unsurprising. Athletes have indicated the need for more time to focus on academic work and pursue experiential opportunities, including internships, study abroad programs, and career development.

Furthermore, the Commission also signaled apprehensive support for rule changes that would allow athletes to receive profits for image, name, and likeness from non-game usage. Previously, the Commission uniformly opposed paying college athletes, suggesting openness to future reforms.

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